French train maker Alstom suggests Ottawa's $2.1 billion light rail transit system was launched in September 2019 despite the city of Ottawa and Rideau Transit Group knowing it wasn't ready for full service.

However, the city of Ottawa says "at no time" did Rideau Transit Maintenance or the LRT contractors say the Confederation Line was not ready to roll for passenger service after the city manager signed off on the launch.

The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry released opening statements and interview transcripts from nearly 90 witnesses on Friday ahead of the start of the public testimony on Monday.   Forty-one witnesses are scheduled to testify at the public inquiry between June 13 and July 8.

In its opening statement to the public inquiry, Alstom says the city and Rideau Transit Group, the consortium building the 12.5 kilometre line, knew there were issues with the system before its launch.

"All the parties were aware that the System was not ready for Revenue Service but the City and RTG pressed ahead anyway," the statement said.

"Rather than further delay the start of Revenue Service, the City preferred to start the System by September 14, 2019, no matter what."

Alstom adds the city of Ottawa refused to "ramp up" service through a soft launch, which would allow the new system to "shake out operational and maintenance issues" before full capacity of ridership.

Alstom built the Citadis Spirit trains for the Confederation Line, with each double-car train having room for up to 600 passengers. There were 34 cars built for the launch.

"For RTG and (OLRT-Constructors), the motivation was financial," said Alstom.

Mayor Jim Watson told the public inquiry that city staff were "satisfied" the LRT system was substantially complete and ready for launch.

"Ultimately, when they came to me with the final decision that they were ready to go with RSA I think in August of that year, I wanted to make sure that – a hundred per cent sure that they were satisfied that the system we were getting was going to be safe and secure and reliable," Watson said. "Staff assured me that was the case."

Ottawa's LRT system was handed over to the city on Aug. 30, 2019, and launched for the public on Sept. 14.

In the city of Ottawa's opening statement, the city said it was "not in a rush to open the system", noting it had refused to agree that 'Substantial Completion' had been achieved in May 2019.

"The City’s focus was and is on public safety, reliability and the customer experience for light rail in Ottawa," the city statement said.

The city says when Rideau Transit Group delivered its second 'Substantial Completion Notice' in July 2019, the city was able to "render a positive opinion" that it was ready.

The city of Ottawa says the final decision to open the system was made by City Manager Steve Kanellakos, who had delegated authority to sign off on the launch following approval by staff.   The city notes Rideau Transit Group nor the OLRT-Constructors "at no time" suggested the system was not ready for operation or that Rideau Transit Maintenance was not ready to take on its maintenance obligations.

"In fact, the reverse was the case, as RTG was anxious to complete RSA and obtain its final milestone payment of $202 million. RTG was aware of the City’s September 14, 2019 launch date well in advance and it was consulted in relation to the City’s launch plans," the city said.

On the issue of a "soft launch", the city notes there was no clause for a soft start in the contract. Peter Lauch of Rideau Transit Group told the inquiry the idea of a soft launch was shot down by OC Transpo management.

The city says it "remains concerned about the ability and commitment" of Rideau Transit Group and its subcontractors to "properly maintain the system", nearly three years after the launch.

"When RTG exerts itself, performance improves. However, as noted by the independent expert retained by the City, Mott MacDonald, RTG has failed to implement a proactive approach to maintenance and asset management, which has led to RTG’s short-sighted and ad hoc responses to issues arising during the Maintenance Term."

In its opening statement to the inquiry, Rideau Transit Group criticized the city of Ottawa for launching the system at full capacity, and said it was "let down" by Alstom.

"The City of Ottawa's misguided decision to launch the Confederation Line at nearly full-service levels and without a soft launch (which is the best practice in the area) on a date the city chose compounded the public's frustration with the system," RTG said, adding it accepts its share of responsibility for some of the challenges the system has faced..

RTG said the city failed to "sensitize riders" to the "possibility and normality" of service interrupts with the transit system.

"The city and RTG Parties were also let down by the key subcontractor, Alstom Transport Canada, which was the city's preferred supplier during procurement," RTG said. "Alstom was late in delivering the vehicles. It was slow to staff-up fully to meet its maintenance obligations. Many of the initial challenges were vehicle related."

RTG described its relationship with the city as being in a "challenging state" adding it "needs to be reset."

The public inquiry will hold public hearings from June 13 to July 8 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  The hearings will be held at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law, and will be broadcast on Rogers TV.

Forty-one witnesses are scheduled to testify, including Watson, OC Transpo general manager John Manconi, city manager Steve Kanellakos and officials from RTM and Alstom.

To read the transcripts, visit the Ottawa LRT Public Inquiry website.